Strength and Conditioning Discussion – Are Foam Rollers Crap?
Random Ramblings from Jedd
Please read this post and put in your thoughts / comments in the comment box below…
As I have posted before, I am a huge baseball (and especially New York Yankees) fan. I watch them every chance I get. I stay up to date on the Yankees’ rumor mill, trades, signings…all of it in-season and out.
However, putting all that drama aside, I also like to study what they do for strength and conditioning, and what other industry leaders are saying about strength and conditioning for baseball. I have a handful of baseball players that come to train every so often, and I like applying the stuff I learn to the training I do with them, plus I try to apply it to my own training. Although I will probably never play baseball again, I do indeed suit up for Slow Pitch softball during the summer and enjoy playing to the best of my ability because it is fun as hell and it is a good break from the “hardcore” training I am normally doing in the gym.
This season, to my enjoyment, it seems the Yankees have actually put a lot more information out there as far as what their players are doing.
For instance, in a recent episode of Yankees Magazine, they showed a Strength and Conditioning session between first basemen, Mark Texeira and strength coach, Dana Cavalea.
For the most part, it talked about how they have incorporated the use of the foam roller into Mark’s training (I am not sure if all the players use them). Cavalea spoke about the foam roller’s ability to improve tissue quality while Texeira spoke about how he would utilize foam rollers as a part of a warm-up prior to strength training.
Improving Tissue Quality
The idea is that by rolling over the foam roller, the pressure will do a couple of things. First off, the localized pressure will “break up” adhesions and improve the quality of the muscle tissue and allow it to perform better. Going further, these adhesions, similar to scar tissue within the muscle, can reduce flexibility and mobility, so by eliminating these flaws in the tissue, you should be able to perform better in lifting and sports.
Here’s a little bit about foam rollers in my experience.
Smitty made me a ghetto foam roller in like 1999. From then until 2008, I used it solely to crack my back every once in a while. It worked great for that purpose, but I had no idea what else I was supposed to with it until like 2007 or 2008 (can’t quite remember which).
In 2007 or 2008, whenever I trained with Smitty and the other guys in the Diesel Squad, I would roll on the foam roller they had. In 2008, they eventually upgraded to a new foam roller which was black and scary looking and they let me take the white foam roller to my place to train with. That was right around when I built my home gym here in the garage. Every so often, I would roll on it prior to a workout, but mainly I only used it to adjust my back prior to workouts.
In 2009, I started to come to the conclusion that my neglect for my joints and my flexibility was holding me back in my strength training. I had gotten so tight in the hamstrings that I think I may have torn one playing softball that year. A lot of this was compounded by the fact that I have worked at a desk since 2001. My thighs and hips have been locked up for several years and this has gradually worked up my back into my thoracic region as well. Around this time is when I started to use foam rollers more frequently.
I started using foam rollers of some sort in almost every workout session in 2009. I started out still using the old beaten up white foam roller. However, that thing was well beyond its time and it literally was now shaped like a flattened U. This was a softer grade foam roller that got used heavily for years by mostly lighter dudes and then I put it through the ringer with my 260-lb ass, so by this time it was just plain wasted.
That was when I abandoned the foam roller made of foam and went with a cardboard core from my old place of work. It was a similar length as a form roller or maybe longer (I have since cut in half so I have one upstairs and one downstairs), but it is smaller in diameter and of course much much harder.
So, because the cardboard pipe is a bit smaller in diameter, it could focus into the dense adhesions more directly and let me tell you – the sensation I would get was nearly a 10 on the 1-to-10 pain scale. Some of this dramatic sensation I wasn’t even feeling on the foam roller. The white foam roller had essentially become useless in my opinion – I could barely crack my back with it because it was beaten up so badly. Jumping onto the hard pipe was a WAKE-UP CALL as to my tissue quality.
To this day, I still use the cardboard core roller every single workout. I start with my thoracic spine, then move on to the lats and then the lumbar area. From there, I move to the hips, working around the head of the femur, the glutes, piriformis, IT band, hamstrings, quads, etc.
I must say that when I go down to the gym, I sometimes feel like ABSOLUTE TRASH, especially in my hips and my back.
After I get off the cardboard core, the feeling in my hips improves DRAMATICALLY.
However, here is my issue…
I see very little proof that my flexibility, mobility, range of motion has improved “chronically.” In other words, while I feel like 900,000 bucks (not quite a million bucks) after hitting the roller and prior to my workout, the next day, I feel locked up just like any other time. So I am not entirely sold on the idea that the foam roller will change your life.
Yes, my injuries have been reduced DRAMATICALLY since employing them religiously – YES SIR. But as far as how I feel throughout the day, there has been very little change.
Now onto the other side of the foam roller equation…
Foam Roller as a Warm-up
I think the foam roller has been a great addition to my workout as a part of my warm-up. Part of being strong is feeling good, and I must say that I feel much better after foam rolling and perform better in my workouts after I hit the foam/pipe roller. I even do this if I am just hitting an extra session of Grip Training – it makes me feel that damn good.
I think there are a couple reasons why the cardboard roller works for me as a warm-up device…
First off, you have the tissue lengthening and circulation promotion properties of the foam roller. Seeing how I am pretty much sitting on my ass all day, getting down on the foam roller and moving around a bit is a welcome feeling. I can feel the blood moving into the areas and I start to feel less like Frankenstein or the Tin Man once I do it.
Secondly, many of the positions that I get into with the roller are similar to the Plank. The Plank is a great movement for warming up and strengthening the core. I think we all know this and have used it from time to time. I’ve noticed that as I roll on the roller, if I make sure to keep my feet off the floor and support myself ONLY with my hands or on my elbows, my core gets a light stimulation, much like in a Plank position.
Incidentally, my warm-up does not include ONLY foam rolling. I also do quite a bit more general warm-up moving patterns prior to each training session using a mixture of Scott Sonnon-influenced Flow and stuff from Smitty’s Amped Warm-up Protocols. But even if I don’t do that stuff, I feel much more mobile and better prepared for the workout once I roll for 5 to 7 minutes.
So, the point I am trying to make here is simply that I have seen lots of short-term benefit from using rollers, especially the cardboard one.
Foam rolling is somewhat of a controversial topic. Some people swear on them uphill and down. Unfortunately, some of these people also throw around fitness buzz words like “Core” left and right, and sometimes when you hear fitness professionals like that talk about something and they are buzz word-aholics, you can shut them out of your mind right away.
Foam rollers also seem to be completely abhorred by the Gym Movement community. For instance, I have read Mike T. Nelson shoot these things down on multiple occasions. He even submitted an article to our site several years ago called “Get Off the Foam Roller.” One thing he pointed to in that article was that they caused pain, and so he did not believe in their use (there were other reasons given, that is just one of them…)
So I guess I am stuck in the middle between the dude that absolutely loves these things and thinks they can cure everything from flexibility/mobility issues, to cancer, and the dude that hates them because they cause pain and anything that causes pain is bad.
As far as the longer lasting benefits of foam rolling, I can’t say I have seen that many. But maybe I am doing it wrong?
What I am asking is this. If YOU have tried foam rolling and given it an honest try, post here and tell me what you think. What benefits have you found? What limitations have you seen? How often do you use foam rollers?
Just leave a comment below. I appreciate you sharing your experience. Thanks ahead of time!
All the best in your training, Diesels!
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As a BONUS, I will offer up a 30-minute phone consultation to anyone who picks this up through
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